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Overcoming adversity: How resilient are you?

Resilience is the term that best describes our goal in the Street Survival Seminar to make you more likely to “win!” in life

One of the basic goals of the Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar is to make each one of our attendees harder to kill. Too many cops think this means just being able to win a confrontation or critical incident, but our aim is quite a bit broader:

We hope to make our brothers and sisters more likely to live longer, happier, healthier lives.

Pretty ambitious, but as instructors we aren’t doing it alone. We stand on the shoulders of all the researchers, trainers, winners, attendees, and warriors who work constantly to find more and better techniques, tools, and tactics for our profession.

A few years ago, one of our founders, Chuck Remsburg, recommended a book called The Survivor Personality by an ex-paratrooper and psychologist, Dr. Al Siebert. It was an excellent resource and a few months ago I obtained another of the good doctor’s books, The Resiliency Advantage, and what a great resource it has been. One of the most important things a book or expert can do for us is not give us new information (which is also great) but reaffirm and explain further the things we already teach and believe.

As I read I found myself constantly saying, “Yes!” and, “I wish I’d said that!”

We all face challenges, successes, failures, pain, suffering, tragedy, joy, and whatever other term you can think of for the agony and ecstasy of our lives. Each of has a different capacity to cope and deal with these things. Resilience is the term that best describes our goal in the Street Survival Seminar to make you more likely to “win!” in life.

Tiger Woods is an example of failing to cope effectively with unbelievable success and proof that too much of anything can make it go from a positive to a negative. Only time will let us judge this remarkable athlete’s ability to rebound, to recover, to “bounce back.” That capacity is what we mean when we say “resilience.” How well we recover from whatever event we face will depend a lot on how well-prepared we are — Dr. Siebert show us how to enhance those mental skills that will improve our resilience.

Just as proper exercise develops our bodies, proper mental preparation and training develops our abilities at every level, from the extremely physical to completely mental. What is self esteem, for instance? It is what you expect for yourself and what you believe you deserve, so it is vital for our happiness. So too, is understanding that your mental attitude — optimistic or pessimistic — has nothing to do with what you are experiencing, but everything to do with how you recover from the bad experiences you face.

Bad things happen to good people, but resilient people are not made helpless and they don’t fall into victim-based thinking. There are concrete exercises you can do to develop these mental foundations and this brief article is not long enough to replace the book that I recommend you swing by the library and check out...literally.

One of the exercises is simply to observe the traits of someone you consider a pessimist and someone you consider an optimist. Good things don’t always happen to optimists but research shows time again they tend to overcome obstacles, survive crisis, recover from setbacks and live longer than their pessimistic counterparts. They believe the center of control in their lives, their “locus” is held by them not by others.

In the famous “Learned Helplessness” research of Dr. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania they found a group that simply would not be made helpless. After developing a screening test to find their personality traits they found these folks were optimists.

How do you compare to the optimists you know?

Optimism is a state of mind — a way of looking at the world — that Dr.’s Seligman and Seibert believe can be learned. Who would need to learn this trait more than a warrior who faces so many threats in our contemporary world? Dr. Seibert even worries that public servants who face so much negativity in their lives might not be getting the training they need to keep their optimism and resilience.

I have to give a big “Amen” to that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself yelling at the television as law enforcement is either being impugned or misrepresented in one way or another by our popular media. We need to be resilient to these and the other stresses of our profession.

I recommend to you start building your resilience for whatever might come, because our test is not our current state of happiness or health, but how we deal with the various crisis that life will throw at us throughout not only our careers, but also our lives.

For too long, law enforcement has focused on and worried about PTSD without remembering a truth that so many researchers are finding in their studies. To paraphrase Nietzsche, “that which doesn’t kill an optimist makes him or her stronger!”

It is time law enforcement recognized the phenomena of PTG or Post Traumatic Growth and expects it, instead of preloading officers to worry about the other.

Stay safe and strong.

Recommended Reading:
Al Seibert, The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure, and Bounce Back from Setbacks
Kevin Gilmartin, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement

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